Football may be the star of the Super Bowl, but Sunday’s ads shone the spotlight on another beloved pastime: Akron’s own All-American Soap Box Derby.
Audi, Alfa Romeo and the Daytona 500 all ran commercials in which official Soap Box Derby Super Stock cars and wheels were used, said Doreen Thorne, marketing manager at the derby.
Audi’s “Daughter” ad features a father asking what he’s going to tell his daughter about her worth as she’s shown racing down a road in a derby car. At the end, white letters appear on a black screen: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress for everyone.”
In Alfa Romeo’s “Riding Dragons” ad, a little girl pushes a friend in a red-and-white striped derby car while a narrator talks about how once we “dreamt of flying cars.”
The Daytona 500 promo shows a quick shot of derby cars lined up at the starting line of a race.
Local derby officials were thrilled with the extra attention.
“It was just great for us … ,” derby Vice President Bobby Dinkins said Monday. “We’re just thrilled advertisers still see it as an iconic brand and want to include us in their campaigns.”
The derby often gets calls from agencies that want to use its products in commercials and a few months ago, an agency called asking about a car, Dinkins said.
“We were told it’s an auto company for a Super Bowl ad,” he said. “We did not know who it was. The assumption is it was probably for the Alfa Romeo commercial. So we had an idea we’d see at least one of our cars in a commercial.”
The derby found out about the Audi commercial a few days ago when it got a Google alert, Dinkins said, and the Daytona 500 ad was a surprise.
There has been an uptick in interest in the derby since the ads were shown, Dinkins said. The organization’s general email inbox had a number of queries in it Sunday night.
“The timing was toward the end of the game and after the game,” Dinkins said. “People were asking how they could get involved in the Soap Box Derby, maybe hosting a race in their area. We typically don’t get them [on a Sunday night]. The time they came in is attributable to the exposure.”
The derby has a poll on Facebook asking folks to vote on their favorite among the Super Bowl ads.
(Beacon Journal file photo)
In this 2012 file photo, Stephanie Getz, 11, and her father Andy, jockey their car into position before a test run at Derby Downs.
The Audi and Alfa Romeo commercials highlight how the makeup of the derby itself has changed. The derby ran its first race in 1934 but did not allow girls to compete until 1971. Karren Stead of Lower Bucks County, Pa., was the first female champ in 1975. Dinkins said it is now about 50-50 when it comes to boys and girls racing in the derby.
Audi’s ad was not without controversy. Monday afternoon it had more dislikes than likes on YouTube and commenters had plenty to say.
“You could tell your daughter the truth. The wage gap is a myth,” wrote a commenter named Miles McDonnell.
“The wage gap is not a myth,” wrote susan jones knape in reply. “You are incorrect. And if things don’t change then that little girl in the TV ad will not have a chance.”
They also took to Twitter.
In reply to Audi’s tweet featuring the ad, commenter Alexa McGriff wrote: “@Audi awesome spot! Are you committed to this internally? Hope you have lots of women in leadership and that they’re paid equally!”
Audi replied: “@Alexa_McGriff We are. We signed the Equal Pay Pledge in December as part of our ongoing commitment to pay equality. audi.us/Progress”
Directly underneath was a tweet from Globalism is Slavery (@MemesFreeUs): “@Audi @Alexa_McGriff There is no pay gap. All people get paid what they’re worth. Audi cheated on public safety tests, & now they lie. Evil!”
The ads’ messages, especially the Audi commercial, resonated with local female current and former racers who are considering or have gone into STEM or traditionally male-dominated careers because of their involvement with the derby.
Stephanie Getz, 16, of North Canton is a Hoover High School junior who has been racing in the derby for six years. She has won in the Stock and Super Stock divisions of the Akron local race and placed in the All-American Soap Box Derby.
“I thought that this commercial was very inspiring for young women because it is important for girls to know that they should be treated the same as a guy,” Stephanie, who wants to go into a career in the biomedical engineering field, said.
She said being in the Soap Box Derby got me interested in learning how cars were built.
“I enjoyed working with my dad to put the car together and try to make it faster, and because of this, I took an engineering class my freshman year in high school, and I knew engineering was the profession I wanted to go into,” she said.
Her sister, Amy, 14, a ninth-grader at Hoover, also races. She has won the Stock in the Akron local and gone on as rally champ to the All-American. She’s not sure yet what career she’d like to go into, but feels the Audi commercial is important for young women to watch.
“It shows that women should be treated equally and that we can do anything,” she said.
Nicole Stout, 22, of Sagamore Hills has one year left of a five-year motor sports engineering program at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis. This summer will be her third as an intern at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron. She raced in all three divisions at the derby, winning the local and placing second at nationals.
“If it wasn’t for the derby, I wouldn’t have found what I wanted to do,” she said. She raced until she turned 21. “For everyone else it was the best birthday, but for me it stunk because I had to quit racing.” Stout still volunteers at the derby when she’s home in the summer.
For her, the Audi ad hit close to home.
“There are definitely a lot more guys than girls [in the field],” she said. “I have never been treated like [just] ‘a girl’ both in school and at Goodyear. I feel just as important and as valued [as men], which is just incredible.”
Jenn Baugher is a former Soap Box Derby racer, Akron native, Coventry and Cleveland Institute of Art grad who now works as Fiat Chrysler car designer in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Coventry High School graduate Jenn Baugher, who is a 2015 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, is a designer in the advanced studio at Fiat Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Mich. She works on both the interiors and exteriors of cars and was part of the interior design team on the Chrysler Portal concept car released last month. She raced from 1992 to 2001, winning the Akron local and competing in other regional races. “As long as I possibly could,” she said.
“In the derby, I saw a lot of engineering-based things that have helped me now even though I’m not an engineer. … I was really big into painting the car, where more of the art side comes into play, the process of priming and sanding and painting. Later when I got to college and doing models of cars, that came in very handy because I already had those skills.”
She thought the Audi commercial was “great.”
“We have a really diverse environment here at work,” Baugher said. “It’s the most diverse place I’ve ever worked. … It’s not a question of male or female. If you are a great designer and love what you do, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
Monica L. Thomas can be reached at 330-996-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MLThomasABJ and https://www.facebook.com/MLThomasABJ.